Donald Trump has urged China to “humanely” resolve the violent stand-off with pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong, on the back of growing concerns that Beijing is considering direct intervention in the crisis.
Images taken by AFP on Thursday showed thousands of Chinese military personnel waving red flags and parading at a sports stadium in the city of Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong.
Dozens of armoured personnel carriers and supply trucks were also parked nearby.
Chinese state-run media reported this week that the elements of the People’s Armed Police (PAP), which is under the command of the Central Military Commission, were assembling in Shenzhen.
The parade comes as the US president linked a possible trade deal with Beijing to a peaceful resolution to the political unrest that has roiled the semi-autonomous Chinese city for 10 weeks.
Washington has become increasingly alarmed by Chinese security forces gathering near the border with Hong Kong as the protests show no signs of abating and Beijing intensifies its drumbeat of intimidation against a movement pushing for democratic reforms.
“Millions of jobs are being lost in China to other non-Tariffed countries. Thousands of companies are leaving. Of course China wants to make a deal. Let them work humanely with Hong Kong first!” Trump wrote on Twitter, in the first clear indication that the trade deal could be threatened by how Beijing reacts to the protests.
“I have ZERO doubt that if President Xi wants to quickly and humanely solve the Hong Kong problem, he can do it,” Trump said in a subsequent tweet, suggesting a “personal meeting” with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
The Hong Kong protests were sparked by opposition to a plan to allow extraditions to the mainland, but have since morphed into a wider — sometimes violent — call for democratic rights.
The movement represents the greatest challenge to Beijing’s authority since the city was handed back by the British in 1997 under a deal that allowed it to keep freedoms that many Hong Kongers feel are being eroded.
– Weekend rallies after airport violence –
Activists are planning another series of mass rallies this weekend in a bid to show their cause still maintains broad public support despite violent scenes during a disruptive occupation of the airport.
On Tuesday, chaos erupted at one of the world’s busiest transport hubs as protesters physically stopped travellers from boarding flights, battled riot police and assaulted two men they accused of being Chinese infiltrators.
Beijing — which has refused to grant any concessions to the protest movement — has seized on the airport violence, with state-media churning out a deluge of condemnatory articles, pictures and videos.
On Thursday China’s ambassador to London, Liu Xiaoming, said Beijing would not “sit by and watch”, warning his government had “enough solutions and enough power to quell the unrest swiftly”.
Until the airport protest, hardcore demonstrators had largely focused their anger towards the police, or state institutions such as the city’s parliament and Beijing’s main office in the city.
The chaotic scenes inside the airport have prompted some soul-searching within the largely leaderless movement over whether that violence has undermined their cause.
As some groups sent out apologies, messaging forums used to organise protests have filled with calls to support a planned rally on Sunday organised by the Civil Human Rights Front — a group that advocates non-violence and has previously managed to get colossal crowds onto the streets.
The economy, already battered by the trade war, has also been affected with the city’s financial chief Paul Chan on Thursday predicting a miserly zero to one percent growth for the year.
– Hands-off approach –
Trump’s tweets on Hong Kong appeared to signal something of a change in his approach to the city.
In recent days he has come under fire from both sides of the political aisle for shying away from the issue, avoiding criticising Beijing even as he cited US intelligence reports of Chinese forces moving to the territory’s border.
China has portrayed the protests as a foreign-funded attempt to destabilise the motherland rather than a popular revolt against its policies.
Washington and Beijing have imposed tariffs on $360 billion in two-way trade, but Trump has delayed tariffs on electronic goods from China, giving investors hope for a detente in the trade conflict.
The introduction of Hong Kong as a potential bargaining chip in those talks could produce a further wrinkle.
Beijing has made it clear it is in no mood to offer concessions to the city’s protesters. – AFP